Reading Lately (March 2019): A Common Thread of Nature

March was a much more normal reading month for me (3 books versus the 6 books last month): a book for each of my book clubs and an audiobook for when I needed a something in my ear. Coincidentally, they all had a common thread, nature, which was perfect since spring is making its appearance in full force these days. Two books involved scientists studying the natural world, and in the third, the protagonist escaped the everyday world by hiding out in nature (literally, in a rye field as a child and in the cemetery as an adult).

Have you read any of these?


Unsheltered: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

In this dual narrative novel, the story alternates between two families who live in the same dilapidated house in Vineland, New Jersey, in two different time periods, the 1870s and 2016. Modern-day Willa begins to investigate the house with hopes of finding historical significance in an effort to secure funds to make much-needed repairs. Through her research and the other storyline, we get to know science teacher Thatcher and his neighbor, biologist Mary Treat (actually a real 19th century biologist). It was interesting to learn a bit about the life and times of folk during the years when Charles Darwin’s theories were first being spread as well as seeing the Trump era as a backdrop to a narrative. I enjoyed the book, especially once I got into the second half. It wasn’t a super compelling read, but a thoughtful one with interesting parallels between the two storylines and commentary on society.

Reading Challenges:


Mirror, Shoulder, Signal: A Novel by Dorthe Nors

(Translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra)

Sonja, an awkward 40-something translator of violent crime fiction, is still trying to acclimate herself to life in Copenhagen after a childhood in a small, rural town. She struggles with positional vertigo, an estranged relationship with her sister, and late-in-life driving lessons. The book has received many mentions, among them 2017 Man Booker International Shortlist, 2019 Dublin Literature Award Longlist, and 2018 New York Times Notable Book, but unfortunately, I was not a total fan of this one. For those looking for an off-beat character study, this would be a great pick. I was too distracted by the writing style (unrelated clauses in the same sentence) and language (unnecessary vulgarity at times) to fully appreciate the story. It did provide good fodder for our Scandinavian Book Club discussion, though, which is always a plus!

Reading Challenges:


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

(Audiobook Narrated by the Author)

I got so much more than I bargained for with this book. I thought I was just going to read a memoir about a female scientist with Norwegian roots who at one point spent some time working in Norway. What I got instead was a book about a scientist with Norwegian roots she actually related to as well as a deep book about nature and friendship. It was a personal, and at times emotional, look at the trials and tribulations of the scientific research and life of a female scientist. It touched upon professional struggles as well as the mental illness she endured and her uncertainty about motherhood. I chose to listen to the audio version narrated by the author herself. I was a bit turned off at first due to slow narration and there being more science than I expected, but then I turned up the speed to 1.5x and settled in. It became much better very quickly. It was especially satisfying to listen to the book as I walked and ran in my neighborhood when spring was coming in full force. It certainly made me look at my surroundings in a new and deeper way.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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Reading Lately (February 2019): Lots of Variety!

Once again I’m joining Modern Mrs. Darcy‘s mid-month Quick Lit, where we share short and sweet book reviews of what we’ve been reading lately.

It’s been an unusual reading month for me with very varied reading for a wide variety of reasons which resulted in more books completed than usual! One book was for my Scandinavian Book Club, a couple were read-alongs with my 6th grade son, one was for an author talk, and a couple just because I felt like it. Some books fulfilled prompts for reading challenges, others didn’t. It was a fun month of reading! What have you been reading lately?


The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This was the second of three books for a schoolwide reading program that I read along with my 6th grade son. It’s a historical fiction book set in England during World War II. Ten-year-old Ada and her younger brother Jamie have a miserable homelife in London until they escape by joining other kids headed to the countryside as the threat of German bombings begin. Ada and Jamie are assigned to curmudgeonly Susan, and so begins a heartwarming relationship between Susan and the kids, but not without some bumps along the way. I’d been meaning to read this for a long time, and now I’m eager to read the sequel, The War I Finally Won.

Reading Challenges:


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Here’s another book that’s been on my TBR list for a while (since reading Salvage the Bones). I was planning to read it sometime this year thanks to the Reading Women Challenge, but when I saw that Jesmyn Ward was coming to town to speak, it jumped to the top of the list. This book drops you in on 13-year-old Jojo, son of a White father and Black mother, who lives in rural coastal Mississippi with his Black grandparents along with his toddler sister and mostly absent mother. He and his sister are joining their mother and her friend on a roadtrip to get their dad who is being released from prison. The story takes place over about 4 days. During this time, the complicated and heartbreaking history of the family is revealed through memories shared and visits by ghosts from the past. It is beautifully written. And hearing Jesmyn Ward speak about her writing experience was icing on the cake.

Reading Challenges:


One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

I didn’t intend for this book to be for me, but rather for my 9th grade son. However, I’m the one who ended up reading it. It’s a young adult novel described as Pretty Little Liars meets The Breakfast Club. I don’t know Pretty Little Liars, but I was a fan of The Breakfast Club and was intrigued. It’s about five high schoolers who end up in detention together. One dies while they’re all there, and the other four are then suspects and a murder investigation ensues. These teens are your typical stereotypes of high school kids – the jock, the princess, the brain, the outcast, and the bad boy – but with some modern-day diversity. And all your stereotypical high school behaviors are there. Despite that, it was an addictive, fun, and fast read.


Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

This was the final of three books I read along with my 6th grade son for a schoolwide reading program. It’s the story of three boys who plan and execute a very special goodbye for a favorite teacher who can’t complete the school year due to a cancer diagnosis. We see the day unfold through their eyes; each chapter is from a different boy’s perspective. I really enjoyed the slow reveal of finding out why Ms. Bixby was so special to each of them. Being a former teacher, I always love finding a “teacher-making-a-difference-and-being-appreciated-for-it” story and this was a sweet one. A great big thank you to my sister who gave it to me for a birthday – and an apology for waiting so long to read it!


Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

(Translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles)

The author takes us into the mind of 18-year-old Maja who’s on trial for her involvement in a school shooting in a wealthy suburb of Stockholm, Sweden, that left her boyfriend and best friend dead, along with others. We alternate between her time in the jail cell and in the courtroom along with flashbacks to her life leading up to the shooting. The book started a little slow, but as I got further into it, it was a page-turner that had me very eager to find out how it all could have come to this. Many timely issues to consider: school shootings, mental health, immigration, gun violence, wealth, class, parenting… We had a great discussion at my Scandi Book Club meeting. I highly recommend it! (This book has been adapted into a TV series coming to Netflix April 5.)

Reading Challenges:


Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I’m fascinated by lesser known World War II stories, and this is a young adult book that delves into such a topic, the Soviet annexation of Lithuania in 1940 and the subsequent deportation of thousands of Lithuanians to Siberia. In particular it’s about Lena, a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl, who is rounded up along with her mother, younger brother, and many others and transported via cattle car to a labor camp in Siberia. It is a brutal and harsh time. The occasional kindness and sympathy from others make it more bearable. Lena is an artist and a strong and bold girl determined to record atrocities and survive and be reunited with her father who was arrested and imprisoned elsewhere. The mother is an admirable woman as well. It was an eye-opening book which I’m glad to have read and highly recommend. (A movie based on the book, titled Ashes in the Snow, came out January 2019 and can be found at hoopla.)

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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Reading Lately (January 2019): New Year, New Challenges

I’m excited for a new year of reading goals and challenges. This year my main focus will be on my own 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge but I’ll be participating in The Reading Women’s 2019 Reading Women Challenge and Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2019 Reading Challenge as well.

Curious about what I’m thinking of reading for this year’s Scandinavian Reading Challenge? Check out my potential picks for the 2019 #ScandiReadingChallenge. I’d love to hear if you have any other suggestions.


Less by Andrew Sean Greer

This was the first book of the new year for my local book club. I was not a total fan, but I found certain aspects enjoyable. I was intrigued by the mysterious first person narrator who surfaced occasionally. I kept wondering who he was – and how could he have such an overarching view of Arthur Less’ life? I thought Arthur’s jaunts through the many countries were interesting. However, I wasn’t a real fan of Arthur himself. He was uninteresting and frustrating and I couldn’t really relate to him.

Reading Challenges:


One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — And Its Aftermath by Åsne Seierstad

(Translated from the Norwegian by Sarah Death)

This one took a little longer than anticipated to read. At the time of my last Reading Lately post, I had not yet completed it but counted it for 2018 challenges since I was 70% through a 500+ pages book. This was an eye-opening book because it revealed so much that I didn’t know about the before, during, and after of the July 22, 2011, bombing of the government quarters in Oslo and the massacre at the youth summer camp that followed. I also feel it’s an important book for me to have read because this day was a defining moment for Norwegians, much like September 11 is for Americans.

Reading Challenges:


Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

(Audiobook narrated by Emily Rankin)

I listened to this as my 6th grade son read it for a schoolwide reading program. Turns out it was set in Appalachia, rural Pennsylvania to be exact, so it met a prompt for this year’s Reading Women Challenge as well, which was a welcomed bonus. I really enjoyed this middle grade book! However, it wasn’t quite your typical middle grade read; it was a little darker with some serious themes and harsh scenes. It takes place during World War II, which I appreciated since I haven’t read many WWII books set in the US. The first-person narrator, soon-to-be 12-year-old Annabelle, lives on a farm with her extended family and goes to school in a one-room schoolhouse. She is responsible, trustworthy, and mature. She and her family are friendly and helpful to Toby, a WWI veteran, who lives in a deserted shack and roams the woods. Then Betty, a bully, moves to town and Annabelle’s idyllic life is turned upside-down. The language is beautiful, old-fashioned to coincide with the time period. The setting is well developed. The issues raised made for good discussions with my son.

Reading Challenges:


Simon’s Family (aka Simon & the Oaks) by Marianne Fredriksson

(Translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate)

The book opens in 1939 with 11-year-old Simon who lives in Gothenburg, Sweden. He is from a working class family and goes to school where he becomes friends with Isak, a Jewish boy from a rich family. The two families are drawn together and become an extended family that together endures the trials and tribulations of the times. The book was a little slow-going for me, but it was interesting to see what life was like for families, both Jewish and not, living in neutral Sweden during World War II. Especially interesting for me was that my maternal grandmother grew up in this area during this time (only 2 years older than Simon) and so the book gave me a glimpse of the setting of her younger life.

Reading Challenges:


Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

I have mixed feelings about this book. I didn’t love the first part, but I really enjoyed the second part. The first part about Tara’s homelife with her survivalist family was just a series of horrible experiences. I kept thinking “What crazy thing will happen next?” And something always did. There were accidents of all kinds – car, motorcycle, and junkyard – with total lack of concern by her father as well as physical and emotional abuse by her brother without any intervention by the parents. Once Tara left for Brigham Young University and began discovering the real world, however, I had a hard time putting the book down. I really enjoyed reading about her drive to make sense of the world and figure out her place in it. I was amazed at how she was able to educate herself. She’s an inspiring woman and an excellent writer which made her story even better.

🇳🇴 An interesting sidenote to my Scandinavian readers, especially Norwegian ones… Tara has a Norwegian great-great-grandmother, Anna Mathea (born 1853 in Nes, Hedmark County, Norway, about 100 miles north of Oslo, which I discovered here). “It was her [Anna Mathea’s] voice that brought our family to the church,” explained Tara’s mother (p. 245). “She heard Mormon missionaries preaching in the streets of Norway” and then managed to convert her parents who “felt compelled by God to come to America to meet prophet Joseph.” This sent me down an Internet rabbit hole curious about how Mormonism came to Scandinavia, in particular Norway, its history there and role in emigration, which was fascinating.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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